How to Get Rid of Bugs or Mites & Dust From African Art & Furniture

Written by cece evans | 13/05/2017
How to Get Rid of Bugs or Mites & Dust From African Art & Furniture
African masks, furniture and other art objects require regular cleaning (Red African Mask image by Paul Hampton from

Many people decorate their homes with African art objects and furniture. Since the 19th century, when colonialism brought many African objects into European homes, African objects and furniture have been beautiful conversation pieces. It's important to keep these objects intact and clean. Most African art objects and furniture are made of wood, and you must take special care to protect them from dust and insects.

Dust the object carefully with a dry rag. If the dust is encrusted, lightly dampen the cloth, but make sure to completely dry the object afterward--water can damage the wood.

Remove any mites from the object. Wood mites are small and white, and they live in old, damp wood. You can have the object professionally fumigated--which is probably the safest way to get rid of wood mites and worms. Gene Wengert, a professional in wood processing, recommends heating the wood to 60 degrees Celsius for 24 hours--this will kill insects, eggs and larva. Heat works, but is not recommended for wood objects with additional and more flammable materials attached (many African masks have raffia, which will suffer from high temperatures). You can also wrap the object or furniture in an airtight bag and leave it for a month, or freeze it for three or four days.

Minimise the change in temperature if you choose to heat or freeze the wood to kill mites and worms. Drastic temperature changes can cause the wood to crack or warp. If using heat, slowly lower the temperature until you hit room temperature. If freezing, slowly raise the freezer temperature over the course of a few hours.

Spray wood oil on to the object and rub the oil in carefully and thoroughly. For dark woods like ebony and mahogany, many African art experts suggest shoe polish, because wood oil does not have enough moisture to prevent fine woods from cracking. Use a clean cloth to apply shoe polish, rub it carefully and buff the surface with another clean and soft cloth.

Maintain the object to prevent further damage. Don't leave the furniture or art object out in the sun. Oil the object regularly (once every two or three months). Keep an eye out for further infestations, and treat again as needed.

Things you need

  • Duster
  • Clean rag
  • Spray-on wood oil
  • Shoe polish

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